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Bigger is better, but only in the right places (Gaming)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Tuesday, December 22, 2020, 14:10 (29 days ago)

Cyberpunk is actually my first RPG open world game. Hard to believe right? I've played open world action games. Some of which I like, and some of which I don't. However after playing an RPG in an open world, I would say that I believe that Open World and RPG are currently, and perhaps forever at odds.

RPGs are by their nature very story heavy. You are 'playing a role', so how you act and what you choose should both be informed by, and influenced by the story. Otherwise there is no 'role' to play. So a story and world that both influences and is changed by your decisions is fundamental to the genre.

This is of course quite difficult to pull off in a video game, which is why RPG games have leaned on stats and experience instead, since this type of thing is very easy to program. Kill some dudes, level up. We will never reach a time when a computer program can simulate a DM and craft the story on the fly for you based on what you do, in an organic and satisfying way.

I think like Deus Ex, Cyberpunk is an RPG with first person elements. But the difference in approach regarding the world is everything. Deus Ex does not have an open world; its levels are sequential and linear, but are open enough to allow freedom in accomplishing your objectives as well as exploration. Cyberpunk is the opposite, with a giant sprawling city in which you can go wherever you like.

The problem is that the sheer size precludes meaningful discovery. In Deus Ex, you are given a main objective, but all the side quests or alternate things are uncovered by you. There is no fixer calling you with a side job. You discover it by your interaction with the world. This works because the levels are only so large, and you can keep track of everything, but also that since they are separate and segmented, the side quests can be discovered naturally in a way that doesn't derail the main narrative. Essentially, you are only able to discover sidequests that relate to or tie in to the portion of the narrative you are currently in. They never really feel like they sidetrack the story in a significant way. Just like what you'd naturally discover and be doing if you were trying to accomplish the level's objective. And they are never tracked. There are no waypoints ever, even for the main mission.

Contrast this with Cyberpunk. No sidequests are discovered organically. They all spring from a phone call, and they are all tracked. A waypoint and a dotted line appear telling you where to go. So for all the supposed freedom an open world gives you, you never use that freedom to discover sidequests or things to do on your own. You're always following directions, and ticking off the side jobs. Some of them are quite good and affecting… but how much better would they be if you stumbled into them on your own? Through your curiosity? But is that even a possibility in a city so large? With so many places to go? How would you keep track? How would you not derail the narrative? Grow bored straying from the story? And so even with this giant open world, I still feel like I had more agency in Deus Ex.

How would such a thing even work in an open world? You'd quickly get overwhelmed, and wander around with no narrative agency just poking around the city. There would be no focus, and the story would come to a standstill. it kind of already does. A character says, "Hurry, meet me tonight", as you do a zillion things then meet them 3 days from now and there's no consequence to that. The very story is a race against time. And yet, there is never any reason to say "No" to a sidequest. No reason to say "maybe later". The game is built around the idea of you being able to 100% it, to check off all the boxes, so things will never overlap. Never conflict. You never have to make a decision about where to go because time means nothing. You never have to wonder if taking a job would close off some things, or open up others. Games like this need to get out of the mindset of coimpletionism. If two characters want you to meet at the same time, you should have to choose which one you want to stand up, and let the story account for this. The game has a time system, but it's meaningless. If you get there early you just wait and skip time until you can do the thing. If I were designing the game, I would have time tick a set amount only when you complete objectives. That way you can mess around and not feel lime pressure, but still have jobs conflict with each other and force you to pick one or the other.

The game even undercuts the freedom you have in a normal action game. The first level in Deus Ex says "rescue the hostage. Whatever way you want. Go". So you go around, making a plan, discovering things, until you decide on how you want to do it. Cyberpunk says "take out these three snipers", and them proceeds to label them sequentially with a waypoint and dotted path. Seriously?! And all the missions are like that. Follow the waypoint and do the thing. Each objective clearly labeled one after the other. How about giving us a map of where the snipers are, and letting us loose to take them out however, and in whatever order we see fit? The particular area is huge and intricate, so why not give us the freedom?

You do make a lot of choices in this game, from your build, to how each mission plays out. But often times it seems to lack in the areas where you SHOULD be able to choose, and other games have let you. But we need something more than just "Do I shoot everyone, or stealth my way through?". We should be asking, damn. How am I going to pull each part of this plan? Better figure it out!

There's a mandatory sequence where you canvas a building you are to enter. The canvasing should be optional. Up to you, and from your own head. You should be able to use the open world to wait, and follow a guard home. Break in, then force him to give you his keycard or uniform. Something. The open world is completely irrelevant to the main missions once you are in them, and it can never be leveraged for solutions.

The open world is a lie. It's just there to watch as you drive from waypoint to waypoint. But the open world CAN'T be true. Which is why Deus Ex feels more real 20 years later. And so Cyberpunk would feel much the same if it were sequential like Deus Ex. Because it's already telling you where to go.

Reviewers have said Night City feels alive. But it does not feel alive because of the sprawling giant city. It feels alive in the small moments. When you meet someone for food, when you get a tarot reading, or you go to a funeral. The people in the city make it feel alive. These are the moments that make it feel like a real place. The characters are what make the environment feel real. All of this would be enhanced without the open world. I think of how giant it is, and how much effort could have instead gone to scalign it back and making the parts you see count for more.

At least with Legend of Zelda, you had your objective. Get the triforce, and enter the final dungeon to kill Ganon. YOU had to explore every part of the map, and gather clue to find the dungeon entrance. But can you imagine this in a world the size of cyberpunk's? How the hell would you ever keep track or find clues? Hence the calls. The dotted lines. The waypoints. Because the city is too big to actually let you explore. Bigger is only better in the right places.

And then you run into things that are just laughable. You steal some shit out in the desert, and drive for 2 minutes to a camp. "Ok we are safe here". Uh really? You are two minutes by car from the enemy camp. You don't think they'd find you in two seconds? Night city is what, about 7km across? So 49 square km? Los angeles is 1,302 square km. Making it continuous makes it feel smaller. Another benefit of breaking a game up into smaller chunks and letting your imagination fill in the gap. it's like why the film 1917 fell flat. Never cutting in what is supposed to be a massive dangerous journey that lasts only 100 or so minutes makes it feel like it wasn't that epic. Like, how far could YOU go in two hours?

I'm glad I played this game, but it's too long, and too big in all the wrong places.

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Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by cheapLEY @, Tuesday, December 22, 2020, 16:29 (29 days ago) @ Cody Miller

You should play Fallout New Vegas. No joke.

One of my favorite critics just uploaded this over the weekend. Massive spoilers, just in case you do want to play it.


As for the rest of your post, I have some thoughts, but I want to play a bit more of the game and think about it.

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Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by Kermit @, Raleigh, NC, Tuesday, December 22, 2020, 17:01 (29 days ago) @ Cody Miller

Thanks for the review. I still might play it one day just for the aesthetic – the way Tolkien fans are drawn to fantasy games.

Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by EffortlessFury @, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 02:15 (29 days ago) @ Cody Miller

Cyberpunk is actually my first RPG open world game.

Terrible choice to start with this game. It's systems are half-baked across the board.

Contrast this with Cyberpunk. No sidequests are discovered organically. They all spring from a phone call, and they are all tracked. A waypoint and a dotted line appear telling you where to go. So for all the supposed freedom an open world gives you, you never use that freedom to discover sidequests or things to do on your own. You're always following directions, and ticking off the side jobs. Some of them are quite good and affecting… but how much better would they be if you stumbled into them on your own? Through your curiosity?

To be fair, most of the calls you receive are triggered by stumbling onto the job's location.

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Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 09:02 (28 days ago) @ EffortlessFury

To be fair, most of the calls you receive are triggered by stumbling onto the job's location.

Which are ALL MARKED ON THE MAP. If you haven't unlocked it, it's just a question mark, with a "Who knows what you'll find?" description.

Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by EffortlessFury @, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 12:33 (28 days ago) @ Cody Miller
edited by EffortlessFury, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 12:40

To be fair, most of the calls you receive are triggered by stumbling onto the job's location.


Which are ALL MARKED ON THE MAP. If you haven't unlocked it, it's just a question mark, with a "Who knows what you'll find?" description.

Won't argue with that. Just pointing out that you can choose to forego paying the map any mind. In fact, there are some folks I know of that deliberately avoid using the map as much as possible. They've made a point to learn the streets just like a real city. It would be nice if there were options to curate your experience a little more, but you don't have to use every feature at your disposal. In fact, I think the map has a filter so you can turn off the icons.

Oh, and there are things hidden throughout the world that aren't marked, for the record.

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Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 13:37 (28 days ago) @ EffortlessFury

To be fair, most of the calls you receive are triggered by stumbling onto the job's location.


Which are ALL MARKED ON THE MAP. If you haven't unlocked it, it's just a question mark, with a "Who knows what you'll find?" description.


Won't argue with that. Just pointing out that you can choose to forego paying the map any mind. In fact, there are some folks I know of that deliberately avoid using the map as much as possible.

Yes, but rather than come naturally from your interaction, you enter an area and *ring ring* hey there's a job for you here.

Oh, and there are things hidden throughout the world that aren't marked, for the record.

Ah like this?

[image]

Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by EffortlessFury @, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 13:48 (28 days ago) @ Cody Miller

Ah like this?

[image]

lol

But seriously, for example, the fastest car in the game is a freebie that you can discover. There's high-tier cyberware. They're referred to as "Hidden Gems" by the strategy guides.

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Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 14:29 (28 days ago) @ EffortlessFury

Ah like this?

[image]


lol

But seriously, for example, the fastest car in the game is a freebie that you can discover. There's high-tier cyberware. They're referred to as "Hidden Gems" by the strategy guides.

And items as such are hidden the same way they would be in any action game… I'm trying to understand what you're getting at. Open worlds undercut the role playing aspect.

Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by EffortlessFury @, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 15:10 (28 days ago) @ Cody Miller

And items as such are hidden the same way they would be in any action game… I'm trying to understand what you're getting at. Open worlds undercut the role playing aspect.

I'm refuting that everything is pre-marked on the map or called out to you upon near-discovery.

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Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by cheapLEY @, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 16:07 (28 days ago) @ Cody Miller

The Witcher 3 did some of this better.

Side quests were not marked on the map until you actually encountered them. Sometimes this is actually just stumbling upon them through exploration. Sometimes it means reading the notes posted on the local notice board in any given village or town. Either way it felt more natural, and far less annoying than constantly being interrupted by phone calls (which often either player no dialogue at all, paused for really long stretches for no reason, or played over the top of mission relevant dialogue in whatever I was actually doing at the time).

I do like the micro choices about how to accomplish whatever objective, even if it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. As far as I can tell, methodology for completing a goal never matters. No one ever comes for revenge because I killed their entire crew posted up in the warehouse, so it doesn’t matter if I actually managed to sneak in and compete the mission without anyone ever noticing I was there. I do think flavor, which is what your play style ultimately is in this game, can be extremely important to the overall mood of a story, and I think it mostly works here for that purpose, even if they can’t make that explicit. Is your V a reluctant participant, sneaking through as much as possible? Or is she murdering anyone in her path because her own survival is all that matters? The game doesn’t explore that at all as far as I can tell, but your play style can at least poke around the edges there, as long as you (the player) are willing to buy in to that sort of role play.

I haven’t looked up or heard about any real decision points in the game, so I can’t comment on that. I do wish there were some more explicit choices, though. Panam and Judy both called me urgently and wanted me to meet right now for something important. I didn’t have to make a choice though. I just went and did Panam’s quests for like ten hours, and even though it’s been several in game days, Judy doesn’t care—we still interact like she literally just called me. I understand making that matter would be a ton of work, but it’s the sort of work I honestly expected them to do based on how they were marketing this game.

I agree with a lot of what you said. The game you sort of propose might very well be a better game (you basically propose Dishonored, so it would be!). I’m not sure that’s fair though, because it is absolutely a different game than the one they made in almost every way. I like open world games, even as limiting as they can be. I do think driving from one end of Night City, through the City, and out into the Badlands is additive to the experience in a way that just having those be separate levels isn’t. Sure, it can make the world feel small, but I can suspend my disbelief there.

The problem is that there isn’t much reason to explore all of that space. You’re completely correct there. Having the map completely filled out and having a waypoint for every step of every quest completely ruins and sort of illusion they were trying to present. It’s a trend that I hate in video games, and I really wish developers would stop relying so much on interactive maps. It’s fine when you’re moving around the overworld—I mean, I assume GPS still works in 2077. But the game plasters a bright yellow waypoint on screen at all
times for the next objective in whatever quest you’re doing, and it’s just shitty design. It’s a real bummer.

Despite its flaws, though, I am enjoying the game. I don’t know if the story is good, but it is compelling, and that’s good enough right now.

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Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 16:13 (28 days ago) @ cheapLEY
edited by Cody Miller, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 16:17

I do like the micro choices about how to accomplish whatever objective, even if it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. As far as I can tell, methodology for completing a goal never matters. No one ever comes for revenge because I killed their entire crew posted up in the warehouse, so it doesn’t matter if I actually managed to sneak in and compete the mission without anyone ever noticing I was there.

But see, Deus Ex at least would acknowledge your choice. If you didn't kill anyone, Navarre would be like "Wow, you didn't kill anyone" and if you mowed down everyone, she'd be like "I knew you were a killer". Doesn't change the story trajectory, but it at least validates your chosen style and accomplishment.

Heck, you can get yelled at for going into the woman's bathroom. Mere one off comments on your actions can have a big effect added up over the course of the game. It's enough to just have the game say "I noticed what you did, even if it doesn't really change anything".

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FWIW, that has happened a few times in CP for me

by ZackDark @, Not behind you. NO! Don't look., Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 16:31 (28 days ago) @ Cody Miller

I would definitively prefer deeper repercussions, though.

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FWIW, that has happened a few times in CP for me

by cheapLEY @, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 17:03 (28 days ago) @ ZackDark

I would definitively prefer deeper repercussions, though.

I can’t actually recall any specific examples right now, but I definitely reminder being surprised by the game acknowledging some pretty minor things I’ve done.

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FWIW, that has happened a few times in CP for me

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 17:30 (28 days ago) @ cheapLEY

I would definitively prefer deeper repercussions, though.


I can’t actually recall any specific examples right now, but I definitely reminder being surprised by the game acknowledging some pretty minor things I’ve done.

Yes it does, but I was talking specifically about your choice of action within a mission. Stealth, no kills, balls to the wall etc. A couple times you get a side mission that gives you bonus points for being stealthy.

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Yeah, I got that

by ZackDark @, Not behind you. NO! Don't look., Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 17:36 (28 days ago) @ Cody Miller

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You really need to give Dishonored another chance

by kidtsunami @, Atlanta, GA, Monday, January 04, 2021, 10:56 (16 days ago) @ Cody Miller

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You really need to give Dishonored another chance

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Monday, January 04, 2021, 12:40 (16 days ago) @ kidtsunami

Bad gamefeel. At least on consoles. Just looking around just feels off. I'll try someday on PC.

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K, I'd prioritize that, it seems made for you

by kidtsunami @, Atlanta, GA, Monday, January 04, 2021, 18:40 (16 days ago) @ Cody Miller

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That and Outer Wilds

by ZackDark @, Not behind you. NO! Don't look., Monday, January 04, 2021, 21:37 (16 days ago) @ kidtsunami

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That and Outer Wilds

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Monday, January 04, 2021, 22:08 (16 days ago) @ ZackDark

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Yes, on console, same as Dishonored for you

by ZackDark @, Not behind you. NO! Don't look., Monday, January 04, 2021, 23:14 (16 days ago) @ Cody Miller

Btw, have you tried fiddling with the deadzone settings?

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Yes, on console, same as Dishonored for you

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Monday, January 04, 2021, 23:34 (16 days ago) @ ZackDark

Btw, have you tried fiddling with the deadzone settings?

Yes. It made a small difference but not enough :-/

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Bigger is better, but only in the right places

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 23:33 (28 days ago) @ cheapLEY

Despite its flaws, though, I am enjoying the game. I don’t know if the story is good, but it is compelling, and that’s good enough right now.

The story is… well the characters are compelling but the theming and larger concepts are devoid of any interesting substance. It's basically edgelord the game.

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